Intentional Draws Revisited

The perennial challenge of intentional draws just reared its head again, this time in FFG’s X-Wing. I can’t say whether FFG was right or wrong to decide to allow intentional draws; in some ways it comes down to the message they want to send about whether X-Wing tournaments are intended as an extension of casual play or as a separate, competitive way of interacting with the game. What I find more interesting is the following passage in the tournament rulebook:

During Swiss rounds, players may intentionally draw a game so long as a leader is present for any discussion between players prior to the agreement. The leader’s presence is required to prevent any breach of the tournament’s integrity. The leader will not intervene as long as players follow the “Unsporting Conduct” on page 3.

This is an interesting approach to the problem of intentional draws, one that solves some problems while creating others.

First, for reference, here’s the relevant portion of the unsporting conduct passage:

Players are expected to behave in a mature and considerate manner, and to play within the rules and not abuse them. This prohibits intentionally stalling a game for time, placing components with excessive force, inappropriate behavior, treating an opponent with a lack of courtesy or respect, cheating, etc. Collusion among players to manipulate scoring is expressly forbidden. Players cannot reference outside material or information during a round. However, players may reference official rule documents at any time or ask a judge for clarification from official rule documents.

What’s potentially good

Having a “leader” (what in some systems would be called a Tournament Organizer or Judge–someone with rules authority) present has the potential to address concerns about bullying or hassling opponents into accepting an intentional draw. Theoretical arguments in favor of permitting draws generally revolve around the idea that players should be free to do what makes sense within the confines of the tournament structure. A leader’s oversight will hopefully keep the discussion on the ground along such tactical lines.

An official presence also serves to avoid misunderstandings. I remember being presented with a weird hypothetical situation years ago: two players reach differing conclusions about the board state in a game, each concluding that they are sure to win. One silently offers a hand, thinking she is offering a draw. The other shakes in the belief that she was conceding. While that is obviously an extreme situation, there is a lot to be said for a leader clarifying all agreements before results are reported and it becomes difficult to handle a problem.

What’s potentially bad

Understanding how the new rules work demands some analysis. Most intentional draws, after all, are efforts to “manipulate”–or at least change–the tournament scoring. On the face of it, then, the intentional draw and unsportsmanlike conduct paragraphs seem to conflict.

I would argue that the problem is resolved easily enough. Merriam-Webster defines “collusion” as “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” FFG doesn’t define collusion in the rules document, so we can justifiably fall back on the dictionary definition; in the absence of an explicit statement, we can assume that words carry their normal meanings. With the dictionary definition in mind, it’s clear that the unsportsmanlike conduct passage prohibits secret agreements–e.g., intentional draws worked out away from a leader. The passage is reinforcing the requirements for intentional draws.

Even given that the apparent conflict is resolvable, though, it’s unfortunate that the rules are written in such a way as to allow this question to arise. It would be good to clarify exactly where the boundary between valid intentional draws and improper collusion lies.

Another question is what constitutes a “breach of the tournament’s integrity.” Including that phrase separate and apart from the reference to the unsportsmanlike conduct policy implies that it means something other than what the policy contains. What, though? If the unsportsmanlike conduct policy is not a complete statement of what the leader is there to deal with, the additional requirements would benefit from being laid out clearly; if it is, there’s no need for the possibly-confusing extra verbiage.

An unusual solution

FFG’s approach to intentional draws is, to my knowledge, unique. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it; I’ll be keeping an eye out for further developments. In the interim, I would encourage FFG to address the issues noted above; with just a little tweaking the policy could be a lot more clear, and thus enjoy the best possible odds of success.

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